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The uniform fits

In Jennifer Lopez' new film Angel Eyes, the pop culture icon demonstrates her growing confidence before the camera and a talent that transcends the transitory appeal of peek-a-boo fashions.


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001

Wait until you see Jennifer Lopez's latest fashion statement in Angel Eyes.

Nothing remotely diva-ish. Nothing see-through and slit up or down to there. Mostly the starched, unflattering uniform of a Chicago police officer solving her life's most important mysteries: herself and a stranger who saves her from a gunman.

Lopez wears the costume well. So well, in fact, that Angel Eyes is a good barometer of how fine an actor she's becoming. Watch her glamorous music videos and tabloid reports. Playing a no-nonsense cop is the last role for which she seems suited. Yet this is the third time she has carried a badge on film (after The Cell and Out of Sight), and the first time she has done it carrying a movie.

Angel Eyes won't work as drama unless audiences believe Lopez. It's a fairly preposterous yarn that needs all the credibility that director Luis Mandoki can muster. Lopez delivers, making the role of Sharon Pogue tough when needed and vulnerable when essential. You believe her gaze aiming down the barrel of a gun, and you believe her tears when Sharon's defenses melt.

The way Sharon yanks a chair from a table to sit down, the way she looks tired of answering first-date questions about her job. Tiny acting decisions like these indicate a performer crafting a character, not merely depending on reputation or screenplay instructions. Sharon can crack a felon's head or break her father's heart, and Lopez makes both behaviors real.

Not much should be revealed about the plot of Angel Eyes, except to report that Warner Bros. is selling the movie in ads as something it isn't. Angel Eyes flirts briefly with expectations of a supernatural thriller along the lines of The Sixth Sense or maybe Ghost. Viewers will instead discover a quietly moving -- although not always fast paced -- story of personal loss and possible redemption.

Mandoki's resume suggests as much. He turned typical alcoholism melodrama into the fine When A Man Loves a Woman by focusing on codependent emotions rather than booze-guzzling. Message in a Bottle wasn't bad at handling a widower's grief and guilt about new love. In Angel Eyes, Mandoki revisits some of the same themes with two people reaching out for each other when they're better off alone.

The bond between Sharon and scruffy Catch Lambert (Jim Caviezel) can be guessed in the first 10 minutes. That twist would be the climax of a lesser movie, but Mandoli and screenwriter Gerald DiPego have more in mind. There are other motivations to explore: who Catch is, why he's following Sharon, why she's uneasy around her family, what this double dose of misery is doing to her career.

Angel Eyes doles out answers the same way Sharon and Catch learn, one baleful look or misspoken word at a time. DiPego's script keeps a viewer guessing, although not in standard mystery fashion. We need to know these people better, and we need to know if romance is enough to salvage either depressed soul.

Caviezel is handsomely haunting as Catch, making the role just weird enough to be vaguely menacing, but with unblinking brittleness. He has the patience and charity of an angel, qualities attracting Sharon while he feels compelled to repel her. Lopez and Caviezel nail these two tricky performances.

Production values and supporting players are solid, and it's nice to see Sonia Braga on screen again, more weathered than in her heyday but still striking. Braga (Kiss of the Spider Woman) plays Sharon's mother, casting that appropriately passes the Latin screen-queen crown to Lopez. She'll wear that well, too. Lopez is more than a star, though. She's an actor deserving to be watched, even out of diva uniform.


Angel Eyes

Grade: B+

Director: Luis Mandoki

Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Jim Caviezel, Sonia Braga, Shirley Knight, Victor Argo

Screenplay: Gerald DiPego

Rating: R; profanity, violence, sexual situations

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